What I learned from my first tournament round in nearly eight years.
By Nick Miller
Every year, the USGA hosts a variety of qualifiers for the U.S. Open, and this year is no different. The 2016 U.S. Open received 9,877 entrants, all playing for a chance to compete at Oakmont Country Club June 13-16.
The beauty of the U.S. Open is apparent in its name — it is a true open tournament, and any professional or amateur with a USGA handicap index of 1.4 or better can enter. This year, I decided to be one of the nearly 10,000 entrants.
Let me first say I haven’t played competitive golf for nearly eight years, since my last U.S. Open Qualifier in 2008. But after getting the competitive bug back and receiving pressure from GolfTEC’s own Jon Levy and a few others around HQ, I decided to take the plunge and play the local qualifier at the historic Broadmoor Golf Club’s East Course in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Broadmoor has been host site for multiple USGA Championships, including the 2011 U.S. Women’s Open, and upcoming 2018 U.S. Senior Open. Needless to say, I entered knowing I’d see a difficult course and one that’s witnessed many of the best players in the world walk its grounds.
So, earlier this week I teed it up with 82 others for five spots to advance to the Sectional Qualifier. And while I didn’t have a great ball striking day to close with five bogies in a row (the 42-degree day didn’t help), I scrambled for some good up-and-downs to shoot 80 and had a good overall experience I won’t soon forget.
I also took away some key elements giving context to just how worthy the contests are of playing this year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont:
1. Professional golfers are good … really good.
After playing The Broadmoor’s East Course as a Par 70 at nearly 7,300 yards, with some wicked pin placements, I have a new-found respect for the games of tour professionals. The precision required on every shot tested just about everything I had in the bag, and I realize the world’s best compete on courses like this every single week. We all know golf isn’t an easy game, and playing such difficult course conditions shows how good these players truly are at their craft.
2. Knowing the green complexes can make or break your round.
The Broadmoor is known for having very undulated greens and they lived up to that reputation. They certainly weren’t unbeatable and there were opportunities to go after a few putts, but the problems arose once on the wrong side of the hole, with blazing-fast downhill putts or big breakers.
Due to a combination of lack of course knowledge and missing my targets, I unfortunately faced several of these daunting putts during the round. Barely tapping a 25 footer from above the hole left me a 15-foot comebacker, and on 18, I played a bunker shot to 8 feet below the hole but it still broke at least 10 feet right to left.
The USGA certainly didn’t do us any favors with the hole locations, but this really showed me the importance of knowing where you NEED to be on the green to score well. Perhaps that’s why we see tour players rely so heavily on their yardage books, mapping out slopes and green complexes in such great detail during their practice rounds.
3. You don’t need to be overly aggressive.
I mentioned I didn’t have my “A” game from a ball striking standpoint, and this contributed to hitting just a handful of fairways and greens, but my short game kept me alive throughout the round. So perhaps this led to my biggest takeaway, which was that you don’t have to be overly aggressive from trouble situations.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are 18 holes and you can’t win the event on a single hole, but you can easily lose it with a few bad choices. The scores of the entire field were a testament to this — a lot of pars, with a birdie here and there, but for the most part the lowest scorers avoided big numbers caused by poor decision making.
My first hole was a pretty good example of this mentality. I pulled my tee shot left into the one place — a giant patch of trees — you needed to avoid. The trees seen in the image to the right are the aforementioned … also known as jail.
I had a few options for the next shot:
- I could be really aggressive and punch a shot through a tiny window toward the green, hoping the ball runs all the way up to the putting surface. I’d say the chance of success with this shot was probably 20 percent, and the other 80 percent would have left me stuck in the trees, costing me a double bogey or worse.
- My other option was to punch out a few yards backward into the fairway, leaving a comfortable 8-iron from 170 yards.
My tendencies are generally to play aggressively and go for it. This was my initial thinking because, after all, it’s the U.S. Open Qualifier and I wanted a look at birdie! My caddie, however — my former swing coach and good friend who’s quite a player himself — talked me into playing the latter of the two options, and what resulted was a punch into the fairway, 8-iron to 15 feet and a great putt for par.
That “up-and-down” from 170 yards quickly showed me the importance of keeping the entire round in perspective, and to not get too greedy with aggressive (read: stupid) decisions that could immediately derail the whole day.
A true test of your game — and fun one.
Tournament golf adds another layer to the game, and it’s one I’ve missed over recent years. Thanks to a little nudge by some friends here at GolfTEC, I put myself out there and tested my game on a very difficult golf course. But most importantly, I had a GREAT time doing so.
Major congratulations to the handful of GolfTEC students who DID make it through the Local Qualifier and continued success at the upcoming Sectional!